Growing up as an intersex person in Nepal
In the past month many countries have held marches in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people or LGBTI. While recently, the spotlight has been on transgender people, little is still known about intersex people.
Earlier this year the community organization, the Blue Diamond Society organized Nepal’s first ever national level meeting on the issues and challenges faced by Intersex people. Esan Regmi, an intersex man was lead facilitator. UNAIDS spoke to Esan, born – Parbati Kumari Regmi about his personal journey.
UNAIDS: What is an intersex person?
ESAN: Intersex people are often born with the sexual anatomy of both genders. When they are teenagers they may begin developing more typical male or female sexual characteristics. During puberty intersex people may develop private parts that are different from what they were born with.
UNAIDS: Can you tell us what it was like growing up as an intersex person in Nepal?
ESAN: There are a lot of intersex people in Nepal but they don’t even know what intersex is. When parents are faced with choosing the sex of a baby born with an indefinite sexual anatomy, they don’t know what to choose. I was raised as a girl, but when I reached the age of thirteen I had not developed as a girl. My parents were so confused. They didn’t know what was wrong with me.
Someone had told them to take me to India. I had no idea what was going on. In India we found out that it was too expensive to do surgery. I was then brought back to Nepal and I started looking like a boy, but I behaved like a girl since I was brought up as a girl. I felt like I was the only one who was going through this. I was so frustrated. Even today, I still find it difficult. When I go to my hometown, they still see me a as a girl. This is the struggle I have faced my whole life.
UNAIDS: What were the greatest challenges you faced growing up as an intersex person?
ESAN: When I went to school or any public space – people used to make fun of me. They would look at my girl’s name and say “Yesterday she looked like a girl and today she looks like a boy”. My friends didn’t want me around them. Even my teachers looked down on me. I was discriminated against most in school because in Nepal girls and boys are separated and I didn’t know where I fit in. I was growing into a boy but had to continue living as a girl. I felt so alone.
UNAIDS: When did you learn that there were other intersex people?
ESAN: I always wondered why I was different. When my Dad took me to India for the surgery, only then did I begin to understand what was happening. I thought I was different and something was wrong with me. I wondered why I was not developing like other girls my age? I knew I was different but I didn’t know that I was intersex. I only understood about intersex when I came to another province in Nepal to pursue my Masters Degree. There was a clinic in the area and that’s where I learnt there was a support group for intersex people.
I searched online – I wanted to know what I was. I understood that there were people like me in the world too. I learnt about myself and my rights. This was only in 2009-2010 when I was 23 years old.
UNAIDS: Nepal has won praise for its official recognition of transgender people, how is being an intersex person different than being a transgender person?
ESAN: When an intersex person is born, their sexual orientation and gender identity is unclear. Many parents see an intersex child as a punishment for their sins of the last life and they are worried about what society will think. For many intersex people their gender identity and sexual orientation is unclear until they grow up. Some men develop breasts while some women grow a penis. Everyone has different physical conditions.
Transgender people are often more aware of their sexual orientation and gender identity at a younger age. Intersex people can spend their entire lives being stuck in the middle of two genders. Some feel like a woman but don’t look like one.
UNAIDS: The first ever intersex national level meeting was recently held in Nepal. What did you accomplish at that meeting?
ESAN: There are many intersex people in Nepal who remain hidden, simply because of fear or shame. To empower our community, we decided to hold the first national level meeting for intersex people. We discussed our sexual orientation, created awareness about intersexuality and held discussions about the rights and needs of our community and how to go about ensuring the protection of our rights.
After the news of this meeting came out in the newspaper, many intersex people started contacting me about how to come out.
UNAIDS: What are the key human rights issues facing intersex people?
ESAN: The birth certificate is the main one because it usually does not match the gender identity of an intersex person. I was born as a girl but I grew up to be a man and still my birth certificate states that I am a girl.
Due to this issue many intersex people are stuck in the middle when it comes to legal documentation. People think we are frauds because our details don’t match our gender identity. As a result, many intersex people are not able to get an education, job and struggle with other legal systems. Many intersex people also face discrimination.
I look like a man now and I dress like one so I don’t face so much of that but I have friends who are men and yet have breasts or women who look like men- their genders aren’t clear – they are often teased and verbally abused wherever they go. This is because people don’t even know what intersex is. In all fields such as, education and health care, intersex people are struggling because of discrimination and lack of awareness.
UNAIDS: What needs to be done to ensure that the human rights of intersex people are protected?
ESAN: We need a lot of support. There are so many intersex people who live without an identity in Nepal. They don’t even know what they are. So many intersex people are struggling, some intersex women are forcibly married off as women even though that’s not how they identify.
I want to be able to explain to the parents of intersex people that their children are normal. There’s nothing wrong with us. We were born like this and should be accepted the way we are. We should be allowed to have a normal life with rights just like everyone else.